Frasier, ‘High Holidays’
Another solid gold edition of America’s finest cultural export, from the last season of the stellar sitcom. With the exception of a rather downbeat outing in season 1 – in which Kelsey Grammer’s bloviating Psychiatrist finds himself eating alone in a diner, and loses his car keys – Frasier’s Christmas specials are almost all flawless. But they saved the best until last. Niles sources a pot brownie in an attempt to “rebel”, Martin unwitting eats it, and Eddie finally talks (watch to see what I mean). “I’ve waited for this all my life, Frasier,” declares Niles, triumphantly. “One act of utter, devil-may-care, crotch-grabbing brazenness! And, of course, I’ll have a nurse on speed-dial in case things get too hairy.” 22 minutes of pure joy.
One Foot in the Grave, ‘One Foot in the Algarve’
There are many great Christmas instalments of David Renwick’s sitcom masterpiece, but One Foot in the Algarve takes the show to a different level. Riffing off the tradition of sending popular sitcom characters on holiday, Renwick subverts the cliches immediately, and weaves a smart, intricate story which is part thriller and part farce, with plenty of inspired visual and verbal jokes. Highlights include the effects of Victor’s aftershave on the local donkeys, Mrs Warboys being mistaken for a prostitute, the Meldrews being asked to identify a body from a severed foot, and Peter Cook’s hilarious turn as a venal, but preposterously maladroit, paparazzo. “I wasn’t that keen on coming to Portugal at first,” laments Margaret. “But now that we’re about to leave, I never want to see the bloody place again as long as I live.” A brilliantly funny and clever episode which cements One Foot in the Grave’s place as one of Britain’s most inventive sitcoms.
Only Fools and Horses, the 1996 Christmas Trilogy
John Sullivan’s beloved sitcom went out with a bang thanks to this 1996 trilogy, only to return for a rather tired set of follow-ups in the early noughties. But this original finale mini-series is inspired. Beginning with the iconic Heroes and Villains – the Batman and Robin episode – the 3 episodes, mixing broad visual comedy, quick wit, the Trotters’ increasingly desperate get-rich-quick-schemes and familial tragedy, represent Sullivan’s writing at its very best. 3 wonderful hours of comedy, beautifully written and performed – and, this time, they’ll be millionaires.
Yes Minister, ‘Party Games’
Yes Minister’s only 60 minute episode, and it’s a doozy. First broadcast in 1984, this extended festive edition sees the Prime Minister stepping aside, creating a leadership vacancy. At first Jim Hacker’s assent seems unlikely but, with the tacit support of Sir Arnold and Sir Humphrey, Paul Eddington’s charmingly incompetent Minister for Administrative Affairs takes an uncharacteristically courageous leap and enters the race. Is the Right Honourable James Hacker, MP actually quite good at this politics lark after all? With a bravura performance from all the cast – nobody plays drunk quite like Eddington – Machiavelli meets Molière in this fine instalment. “First rule in politics,” explains Jim to his wife. “Never believe anything until it’s officially denied.”